Police in Pakistan on Monday(May 23) jailed a Christian after Muslims upset that he tried to stop them from teasing girls beat him and accused him of posting blasphemous content on Facebook, sources said.
Hospital staff refused to treat Usman Liaqat after the beating, saying he had to first file a police report, but after the 32-year-old Christian reported the attack, police arrested him based on a blasphemy accusation filed by one of the Muslims who beat him, his wife said.
"Rather than arresting those who were involved in torturing my husband, the police promptly arrested Usman and took the injured man to the police station," Farah Usman said.
Liaqat had left for work from his home in Nabipur village, Sheikhupura District in Punjab Province,on Monday (May 23) when a group of young Muslim men led by Ahsan Asmat beat him until he was heavily bleeding, she said. A local Muslim rescued Usman and took him to a nearby hospital, where staff members said he first had to file a police report before they would admit him, she said.
Liaqat told police how he had stopped a group of Nabipur village boys from teasing girls and posting their photographs on Facebook without the girls' knowledge; how on Sunday (May 22), he went to the home of the father of one of the boys to show him the Facebook posts on his laptop; and how, rather than rebuke his son, the father, identified only as Zulfiqar, and his relatives pushed Liaqat out of their home.
Liaqat reported how Asmat and the other young men beat him the following day. As word of the incident spread, members of a local Muslim outfit organized a demonstration on Tuesday (May 24) demanding registration of a case against the Christian. Asmat and others filed a complaint against Usman with Factory Area Police Station accusing him of posting blasphemous texts on Facebook, his wife said.
"Please pray for the early release of my husband from this fake case," Farah Usman said. "His only crime is that he had revealed the misdeeds of the boys to protect the honor of the girls of the village. He is already in great pain due to his injuries, and now the police send him to jail for a crime he hasn't even committed, leaving us to the mercy of others."
Sheikhupura District Police Officer (DPO) Sarfraz Khan Virk said that police had registered a case under the blasphemy law against Liaqat after villagers filed a complaint alleging that he had posted blasphemous text on a social networking website.
Initial investigations showed that the allegedly blasphemous texts were posted last year by another man who is now living abroad, officials said. Virk said the social media account through which the content was posted had been dormant for the last eight to nine months.
"We are trying to verify the account details, after which we will reach a conclusion," he said, adding that police were also looking into Usman's complaint of the violence against him.
The police official said that there was no record of any complaint filed against the person who had originally posted the content.
"Our investigation is continuing, and if it turns out that Usman is innocent, we will release him," he said, adding that the First Information Report of the blasphemy case had been sealed on the orders of senior officials until the investigation is completed.
The investigating officer in the case, Rana Younis, told Morning Star News that the blasphemous texts were posted on Usman's Facebook page a year ago, but that Usman said that they appeared on his timeline because someone had tagged him on the posts.
"According to Usman, the person who tagged him in the posts is not in Pakistan now," Younis said. "We are investigating the case from all angles and will soon reach the bottom of things."
Dismayed by the police decision to book Usman for blasphemy despite knowing the backstory to the accusations, Christian rights activist Napolean Qayyum said the case was a clear manifestation of how Pakistan's widely condemned blasphemy laws are misused to settle personal scores.
"Another helpless man is being made to suffer needlessly for a crime he hasn't committed," Qayyum said. "Usman has three children and was earning a decent livelihood for them, but now life will never be the same for this family. He risks losing his job and may even have to relocate to another place when he comes out of police custody."